Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 23, 2013

Water levels may recover during dry spell

BY MATT TROUTMAN mtroutman@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Northern Michigan is in the midst of yet another dry summer, but experts predict Lake Michigan water levels may still recover from recent record lows.

Thunderstorms predicted to sweep across the Traverse City area today likely won't do much to erase this year's rainfall deficit, said Nick Schwartz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Gaylord.

"The storms we're expecting to be more scattered," he said. "It will be a hit-and-miss type and it's not likely that a lot of areas will get heavy rainfall."

Traverse City received 16.74 inches of rain so far this year, down from an average of about 19 inches. Dan Hall of Hall Farms on North Long Lake Road in Grand Traverse County said it's still an improvement over last year, when drought conditions devastated farms across northern Michigan and the Midwest.

Rainfall in Traverse City last year stood at 15.5 inches by mid-July.

"If we got rain on a fairly timely basis between now and September, we got a crop," said Hall, who grows sweet and field corn among his grain crops. "It's not broken yet."

Farmers may be on a wait-and-see pattern with the weather, but scientists at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers see hopeful signs of improvement in another disturbing trend from last year. Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology for the corps' Detroit District, said Lakes Michigan and Huron are 2 inches higher than this time last year, but remain about 19 inches below the long-term average.

Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are considered to be the same lake hydrologically because of their connection by the Straits of Mackinac. Lake levels reached an all-time low level in January, but Kompoltowicz said increased snow melt and heavy spring rains contributed to a significant summer rise.

"It has risen about 19 or 20 inches," he said. "It's usually about 12 inches. The levels certainly have rebounded quite a bit this year from setting a record low in January."

Kompoltowicz said lake levels reach a yearly peak in August and a winter low in December. He said winter low levels this year could be about a foot higher than those in 2012, but it's too early to know whether it's a sustained recovery.

Schwartz said northern Michigan has been left "high and dry" by an large high-pressure system that has lingered over the southeast states and a stifling thunderstorm formation elsewhere. He said today's potential thunderstorms will be swept aside by another high-pressure system that will bring a "nice stretch of weather" into Wednesday, with high temperatures only hitting the mid-70s.

"It'll be spectacular days and great sleeping weather with the lows going into the lower-50s," he said.